Book banning occurs more frequently and more recently than many realize


The classic novel Black Beauty was banned in South Africa, The Hunger Games was banned in China, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was banned at schools in Illinois and Ohio. Since the year 2000, the Harry Potter series is often cited among the most banned and/or challenged books.


Story and photos by Ann Dallman

“Books light the fire—whether it’s a book that’s already written or an empty journal that needs to be filled in,” said the esteemed author Meg Wolitzer, known for The Wife, The Ten-Year Nap, The Uncoupling, The Interestings, and The Female Persuasion. But, when it comes to the subject of banned books, some people would like to set them on fire.
“A banned book is one that has been removed from the shelves of a library, bookstore, or classroom because of its controversial content. In some cases, banned books of the past have been burned and/or refused publication. Possession of banned books has at times been regarded as an act of treason or heresy, which was punishable by death, torture, prison time, or other acts of retribution.” (www.thoughtco.com)
Libraries across the nation mark Banned Books Week in late September each year. Last year, Peter White Public Library in Marquette set up a special display to give patrons the opportunity to browse books that were banned or challenged over the years.
Samantha Ashby, head of the adult services department at Peter White Public Library, said the purpose is “to bring awareness to the fact that people and groups do not have the right to censor reading materials just because they do not align with their personal philosophies or political agendas. The displays are always different, but the library always posts an informational statement about the how the content of certain books are ‘challenged’ in school and public libraries, but very few end up being ‘banned.’”
The library will create another display for this year’s Banned Book Week, Sept. 23-Oct. 6, she said.
Ashby said she has been most surprised to see the Harry Potter books “consistently challenged, because I think of banned books as a thing of the past. Patrons are usually interested to know when a book was banned and the reason why. Most of the books we now consider ‘classics’ have been challenged or banned, such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.”
Ashby was not aware of any books removed from the shelves of Peter White due to bans, but she noted that the library receives occasional complaints for various reasons. “For example, complaints have been made about the Harry Potter books because they contain witchcraft,” she said.
Spies Public Library in Menominee observed last year’s Banned Books Week by compiling a lengthy list of books that had been band and descriptions of the reasons that were given at the time for doing so. Here are some of the titles on that list:
– The Giver by Lois Lowry. Reason: descriptions of adolescent pill-popping, suicide, and lethal injections given to babies and the elderly.
– The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Reason: profanity and setting bad examples and giving negative views of life.
– Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Reason: horrible, shameful, blasphemous, filthy in word, filthy in thought and wicked and obscene.
– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Reason: absolutely immoral in its tone and language, including repeated use of the N-word.
– The Wonderful World of Oz by Frank L. Baum. Reason: depicting women in strong leadership roles.
– The Witches by Roald Dahl. Reason: violence, mouse turning, possibility of turning kids to witchcraft or the occult.
– The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Reason: anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitivity, offensive language, violence.
– Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Reason: banned in South Africa during apartheid because the world “black” and the word “beauty” appeared side by side in the title.
– The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Reason: language and sexual reference.
– Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Reason: violence, language and renouncing of religion.
– Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reason: its use of lewd and possibly offensive materials.
– Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Reason: perpetuates negative stereotypes by touting the infamous gangster Al Capone.
The Spies display also included “Wanted” posters for Harry Potter due to “Portrayal of witchcraft, encouraging bad behavior and spookiness. Considered Dangerous. Do Not Read.”
Another “Wanted” poster cited The Diary of Anne Frank because “It’s a real downer.”
Cheryl Hoffman, a librarian at Spies Public Library, said that in her 32 years as librarian no one has filed a formal complaint objecting to one of the library’s books.
However, she said, “The American Library Association has been challenged over books such as The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and The Lovely Bones. Sometimes people misunderstand and take things out of context.
“As a public library, it’s up to us to present all sides of things to the best our ability. As individuals and librarians it’s our right to pick and choose what we want to read. Somebody will always object to something. The Library Bill of Rights protects the right to read of all people in the community,” Hoffman explained.
“I read a lot of reviews to select material for the library. If we’re challenged, I want to be able to address it. If we don’t offend somebody with our different points of view then we’re not doing our job,” she said.
Spies Public Library held its third Harry Potter Night just last month. The event has proved so popular that it had to be expanded to two nights.
“Society has changed so much. For example, Young Adult literature covers some very serious topics including gender issues, suicide, drugs and bullying,” Hoffman said.
At the Peter White Public Library, the criteria for selecting new materials are many.
“We consider quality, popularity, need for a material topic/type, cost, format, and programming considerations, to name a few. Collection development is part art, part science. We have standing orders for popular authors, and then we consult reviews before purchasing materials. Patron requests are also taken into account. Patrons can request materials in-person or online,” Ashby explained.
At Spies Library, materials are selected on the basis of individual merit, popular appeal/demand, suitability of material for the clientele, existing library holdings and budget.
Both librarians said their libraries endorse the Library Bill of Rights and The Freedom to Read Statement (which oppose censorship). Books are offered in all genres and topics letting patrons know that their choice of books is respected. Both libraries also make available “Citizens Request for Reconsideration of Material,” a form library patrons can submit if they believe a library should remove a book or other items from its collection.

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